Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Prioritizing the Family Ecosystem

Hi Viny, 

I saw your blog post a while back and had meant to write in, but of course got distracted - anyway really I don't have a question for you particularly but I wanted to say that your advice got, and continues to get, me through some very dark and confusing times. I really wanted to thank you for doing what you do. I'm so grateful that you lead a life that has its ups and downs like the rest of us, because you're able to give real advice as a result. This loving people thing isn't always straightforward and I'm so glad I have you out there blazing a trail and reporting back on how to handle it.

Thanks again! 

-- A Reader


Dear Reader,

Your kind words are much appreciated. In evaluating what I want to do with this blog in the future, and what other venues might exist for advice-giving, I have been thinking a lot about two questions:

1) Given that there are a limited number of activities/pursuits/goals I can reasonably expect to cram into my "spare" time, what are my priorities?

2) What is the value of making my private experience public? Do the benefits outweigh the risks? And what about the fact that my stories are almost always other people's stories as well, and that I cannot always get their permission/buy-in?

The topic of priorities came up in a conversation my husband recently had with his mother. 
My mother-in-law has done a pretty good job of accepting our unconventional approach to marriage, and she's made a point of welcoming my boyfriend Cam into the family. But she was upset that on our recent family trip to Utah, Cam and I booked a Bed & Breakfast for one of the nights we were there. She would have preferred for us to stay at her house for the entire vacation, since it was such a short visit. Yes, she'd given me and Parker the guest bedroom, and Cam the living room couch, but handling the sleeping arrangements any other way would have felt awkward to her. Surely, Cam and I could stand to sleep apart for four measly nights, right?
She complained to Parker, "It's clear that Viny's first priority is Cam. And her second priority is [Parker's and my 8-year-old daughter] Sienna. But I don't even know where you fit in, Parker -- it seems like you're pretty far down on the list of priorities."

Granted, she was frustrated and angry when she said this; she was also probably worried about Parker feeling left out, given that he wasn't spending the night at a cool B&B. But I figured I'd better address her concerns directly. So I asked her about what she had said to Parker, and asked her for an opportunity to explain what I think my priorities are.

I told her that my first priority is actually what I call the family ecosystem. This system is made up of individuals, yes, but it is far greater than the sum of its parts, because it also encompasses the dynamic interplay of the relationships between those individuals. Put more simply: I try to make decisions based on what is going to be best for group functioning. Sometimes that looks kind of like utilitarianism (maximizing happiness by thinking about which choice is likely to result in the greatest good for the greatest number). Other times, it may seem on the surface to be favoritism. Or even pure selfishness. Maybe sometimes it is favoritism, or selfishness -- but I try very hard not to indulge in either, unless I feel that doing so will ultimately be in everyone's best interests.

Mind you, I don't always succeed in prioritizing the family ecosystem. But it's always my intention to put the overall healthy functioning of the group first.
Luckily, my mother-in-law seemed to appreciate both this explanation and the intentions behind it. Family feud averted. Whew!

I still have to finish packing for yet another family reunion -- my side of the family, this time -- so I'll have to post this in its half-baked state. Thanks for giving me that little nudge, and a reason to reflect.
Applesauce & Dental floss,

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